The Government is introducing a new permitted development right to allow offices to be converted into flats without the need for planning permission.
The measure is part of the Government's Plan for Growth, announced in the 2011Budget , and is billed as a means of delivering 'badly needed homes', helping to 'create jobs in the construction industry', and helping to 'regenerate our town centres'.
It will require an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (GPDO) to be made by Statutory Instrument later this year.
The key features of the right, which were announced on 24 January 2013, are that:
- it will allow conversions of offices within use class B1(a) to residential dwellings in use class C3
- it will be in place for a temporary period of three years
- approval will be required in relation to transport, highways, flooding and land contamination
- associated external physical development will still require planning permission
- certain areas will be exempt, but only where the Local Authority can demonstrate that it would have 'substantial adverse economic consequences'
When the Government consulted on proposals to extend permitted development rights in April 2012, it was suggested that the right might also apply to conversions of premises used for research (B1(b)), industrial (B1(c) and B2) and storage and distribution (B8). However, the announcement is clear that it will only apply to offices falling within use class B1(a).
Several local authorities - most notably the City of London Corporation - have raised concerns about the impact that the right will have on the availability of employment sites in their area.
The Government has therefore offered to introduce blanket exemptions for certain areas if the local authority can demonstrate that the right would result in either:
- the loss of a nationally significant area of economic activity (i.e. the City of London) or
- substantial adverse economic consequences not offset by the positive benefits of the right
The exempt areas will be set out in the Order, but in order to qualify, the concerned local authority must apply to the Secretary of State with supporting evidence by 22 February 2013. The Order is expected to be made very soon after that date.
The conversion of empty buildings for residential use is already encouraged in paragraph 51 of the NPPF. The Government will therefore only grant an exemption in "exceptional circumstances".
However, in certain cases, local authority approval will still be required before the conversion can take place. Details have yet to emerge, but in a letter to the Chief Planning Officers, the Secretary of State has said that there will be a "tightly drawn prior approval process which will cover significant transport and highway impacts, and development in areas of high flood risk, land contamination and safety hazard zones."
Other measures announced include new permitted development rights to allow the conversion of redundant agricultural buildings to small scale commercial uses including shops, restaurants, hotels, leisure facilities and offices.
It will also be possible to covert town centre uses (falling within use classes A1, A2, A3 and B1) temporarily for two years, to help bring vacant high street buildings back into use.